Stop Throwing Trans People Under the Activism Bus!

I’m thrilled that people are taking a stand against North Carolina’s anti-trans law.

Really, I’m thrilled.

But I want to ask those who are supporting the rights of trans people, please stop throwing trans people under the bus in the process.

At least once a day, I see some sort of meme go by asking: “Do you want this person in the ladie’s/men’s restroom?”

I sort of get why it might seem appealing to use those memes. It’s the whole “get them with their own prejudice” idea…and it probably seems super ironic.

But please stop.

The memes that ask that question with pictures of attractive men and women are essentially saying, “Do you really want to risk this trans person stealing your partner?” It sexualizes and objectifies trans people even further, which is hugely problematic since trans people face tremendous risk of sexual violence, more risk than the ciswomen that conservatives are suddenly (and ironically) interested in protecting from sexual violence.

The memes that ask that question with pictures of burly dudes are even worse. They are essentially capitalizing on the fear of sexual violence, implicating that it’s not safe for a trans man whose birth certificate says “female” to be in the same bathroom as another woman. In other words, it’s implying that what the law is trying to prevent will happen by virtue of the law being in place.

Just…stop! That’s not helping!

But the biggest reason why those memes are more destructive than helpful is because they continue to support the binary myth that there are men and then there are women. End of story.

The most discriminated people in the trans community are erased as much by this pathetic excuse for activism as by the law itself because they are essentially told that they have to fit into one category or another, no exceptions.

The truth is, unless a security guard is checking birth certificates on the way in, if someone looks strictly feminine or strictly masculine, regardless of whether they’re trans or cis, they’re probably not going to be barred from using the bathroom that matches their gender.

That doesn’t mean the law is okay by any means. The intent to discriminate is abhorrent regardless of whether it’s easily enforced.

However, the ones at highest risk for this discriminatory law aren’t going to be the beefy guy or the sexy lady. They’re going to be the people who are still in transition, the ones who don’t fit into the binary (e.g. genderfluid, bigender, agender), the ones who are unable to adjust their appearance due to lack of access, safety, or money, or the ones who reject traditional masculinity and femininity for various reasons.

And the memes don’t even begin to help those people. The very opposite actually.

If activism perpetuates transphobia and prejudice or objectifies and erases vulnerable people, that’s terrible activism!

So if you want to show support for trans people and protest legalized bigotry, find another way.

EDIT: Someone pointed out that this post doesn’t offer any alternatives. I chose not to list my thoughts on how to be an ally because I didn’t feel it my place to define that for a community to which I do not belong. However, I am all for providing constructive alternatives when pointing out problematic areas. Therefore, I recommend GLAAD’s page on Tips for Allies of Trangender People.


3 thoughts on “Stop Throwing Trans People Under the Activism Bus!

  1. Joy Schwenke says:

    I understand your concern, at least let me say I am trying to understand your concern. I do feel like I am being hit unfairly for doing something that I was attempting to do right. I have been very open about my anger towards North Carolina forpassing their stupid “bathroom” law. I thought I had some idea of how it might affect a transgender person, but now I am being criticized for showing support. I am sorry I don’t know all the ins and outs of teabsgender, but at least give me credit for being sympathetic and on their side.

    • You know, I struggled with writing this post because I would like to talk about ways to show support, but I felt that it would be better for people to read what trans people have already requested regarding how they want allies to support them. I certainly wasn’t targeting you specifically with my blog post. The memes are prevalent, and I felt that I needed to point out how they seem problematic. I really appreciate that you are willing to take what you read and examine yourself and be open to change. I don’t think there is any such thing as being a “perfect” ally or activist, but there is a lot that comes from being open to learning. A couple of weeks ago, I was called out on saying something that was slut shaming. I was embarrassed because I work so hard to be sex-positive and accepting of women. But when I took a step back, I realized my friend had provided a beautiful opportunity for me to become more in line with what I value. 🙂

  2. Nancy says:

    SO beautifully said!!!! Every time I see one of those memes I want to scream, because I instantly think of what ELSE the photo implies… how would people respond to the same meme/narrative if the person in the bathroom selfie/picture didn’t necessarily have passing privilege (like you said, due to a variety of factors, some by choice, some not)??

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